Thursday, November 27, 2008

Fedora PreUpgrade

You've got to learn every day, that's for sure. Sometimes it's tedious (yes, I admit to being so old as no longer love learning for its own sake), but sometimes it's nice. An example of the latter was today when I read about Fedora PreUpgrade.

A while ago, I wrote about UNetbootin, a very nice utility for starting Linux installation or live cd's like GPartEd from a running system without burning a CD or DVD. I've been using it since then and will do so in the future. However, in the case of Fedora, CentOS or Red Hat Enterprise Linux upgrades, using UNetbootin has its limitation. (Which is, of course, not the fault of UNetbootin, but a limitation of these distributions, in the latter simply referenced as Fedora.)

For upgrade of Fedora, there are basically two options:

  1. The officially supported way is using the Anaconda Installer. That means booting from a CD, DVD (or via UNetbootin :-). That's nice, if you have a DVD ready and also have direct access to the system.
  2. The officially unsupported way is using Yum. Much better in some aspects: You can do it from within a running system, even remotely. However, if you are reading the Yum Upgrade FAQ, then you cannot fail to notice that there seem to be a lot of traps and possible problems. I have had my share of these in the past, for example when the IDE devices have been renamed from /dev/hdx to /dev/sdx: At that point you could bet your house on Yum upgrades failing.
    For similar reasons, the Yum upgrade should not happen with a UI running. If you are actually using the machine (for example on your own desktop), then that means a lot of more downtime than you want. (Ok, you might use the download-only plugin... I am ranting, but there's a reason for this Blog's title...)

In other words, you either got to do it safe (Anaconda) or nice (Yum). No longer: Use PreUpgrade.

It's a small python utility with a UI. You start it. It connects to the Fedora server and gathers a list of releases, which are available for an upgrade. (This might include alpha and/or beta releases, if you like.) Proxy servers are supported, btw., I did not check, whether it uses http_proxy, yum.conf, or both. You select a release and click on "Apply". After that, it automatically calculates dependencies and loads the required RPM's to your hard drive. So far, you' ve got the advantages and the comfort of Yum.

But that's not all. In the next step, PreUpgrade is loading a kernel image, a ram disk and similar stuff to your hard drive and configures your system for using them at the next reboot: In other words, it does what UNetbootin would, for you.

All this is happening in the background. You can continue your work, no downtime so far. Finally, when PreUpgrade is finished, you may click on Reboot: Anaconda comes up, performing a safe installation without downloading anything or using a slow CDROM drive.

By using PreUpgrade, I have just upgraded from Fedora 9 to Fedora 10. My downtime was about 10 minutes. (Excellent possibility to get some coffee!) Aint this magic?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Authors to remember: Robert Sheckley

In the last years, I tend to find that books I'd like to obtain are out of print or generally unavailable. No surprise: With 45, you and the time of your youth definitely tend to become part of the scrap heap. In some cases, thats simply sad, because these authors did an excellent job at their time and absolutely deserve being read nowadays. We should not forget them. Don't know whether I'll be able to start a series here, but let's begin with Robert Sheckley.

Robert Sheckley had his best times in the fifties, when he wrote, in particular, a series of short story collections. These short stories were usually published in science fiction magazines. When reading his books, you'll find everything that makes science fiction: Space ships, as much as you like, roboters of all kinds, and so on. (I don't want to reduce him to that: He wrote detective stories, fantasy, or adventure stories as well as scripts for TV and films, but let's forget about that today.) At that time, SF was quite popular.

But his stories were different: Witty, surprising, absurd, and sometime hilariously funny. They were not so much about predictions, but about humans and how they are. For example, in "A ticket to Tranai" a young man receives the chance of his live: He's able to rule a world, an Utopia. Surprisingly, things are not as they should be and in the end he hardly manages to escape back to earth. The story ends with him visiting the same bar where the story began, void of all illusions and proposing Tranai to others. Why should they be better off than him?

In "Bad Medicine" a man is "cured" by a mechanic psychiatrist. It turns out, the "mechanotherapist" wasn't made for human minds, but martians. Of course, the result is not the expected.

An almost prophetic example is "Price of Peril": A TV show proposes a high sum of money to a man, if he can manage to survive the next week. His opponents are a bunch of (also hired) criminals. Of course, the TV cameras are watching him 24 hours a day. And of course, they have their own view how the game should end...

To quote Douglas Adams (from the cover of Hunter/Victim): "I had no idea the competition was so terrifyingly good."